Okay, okay, not the greatest title in the world. But I'm serious, here. I'd like to take a moment out of my ranting and raving about religion and equal rights and asshole bigots who just will not go away to offer an olive branch to a particular group of individuals.
After many years of debating, discussing, and outright arguing LGBT rights, two particular things have become very clear to me:
It is point #1 that this little ramble is mainly about, but I think it's important to explain point #2 first. A phobia is generally understood to be an irrational fear -- a thing or place or creature or situation that gets you panicky even just thinking about it. Someone with a phobia will avoid said situation at all costs, will literally run screaming from it, due to the terror it makes them feel. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but when I think of what is generally branded homophobia, I don't think of people fearfully running away from queers. I don't think of people fainting in anxious terror at the sight of two girls kissing, or deadbolting their doors, crying, upon seeing two men holding hands as they walk by. In fact, I tend to think of the complete opposite. I think of bullies surrounding a gay kid to beat him up or harass him. I think of loud-mouthed assholes on the internet telling lesbians they just need a good dick to straighten them out. I don't think of fear at all -- I think of hostile, confrontational violence (whether physical or verbal).
Also inaccurate is the implication that homophobia is aimed exclusively at homosexuals. It has been my experience that these people tend to feel equal amounts of hatred and disgust for bi/pansexuals, transexuals, genderqueers, even those who are polyamorous or merely androgynous. Homophobia is not an irrational fear of homosexuals -- it is an irrational disdain for anything outside of the absolutely "normal".
It is for these reasons that I both reject the term "homophobia", and feel the need to give this shout out.
There is a certain group of people out there that I feel have been unfairly labelled homophobes and bigots. These people are not hateful, they do not protest or fight against gay rights, they do not use words like "faggot", they do not rage at queers on the internet. These are people that just...feel a little icky about it. They don't understand why a man would want to have sex with another man, or how anyone could want to switch genders. They feel a little unsure that these things are natural. They feel a little unsure that we should be playing God like that. They don't hate anyone, they don't want to take away anyone's rights or stop anyone from being happy, they just don't understand, and wish, somewhere deep down inside themselves, that these people could somehow just...not be like that.
Needless to say, I do not sympathize much with this position, but I can empathize with it. After all, can we not all think of something that we just don't feel good about, for no rational reason? Isn't there something that makes us uncomfortable, even if it maybe shouldn't? Is feeling that discomfort enough of a reason to be labelled a bigot?
Personally, I don't think so. I think these are the very people we need to be reaching out to. These are the people that can perhaps one day be convinced that we are just normal people, who want to live normal lives. These are people who simply lack understanding -- people who may have misconceptions, or are fighting with their preconceived notions, or are perhaps just ignorant through no fault of their own. We must remember that not everyone grew up in a time or place where different orientations were common or accepted. I remember being shocked upon moving to Vancouver to find that tattooed, freaky people like myself were pretty standard viewing. It was a bit of a culture shock -- and it was my own culture! I have to imagine that suddenly being faced with all of these orientations, lifestyles, statuses, and labels after growing up knowing only heterosexual, cisgendered monogamy might be a tad overwhelming. Rather than lash out at understandable wariness, I propose we take it as an opportunity.
Bigots are a write-off. Let's be honest, here, and just get that out into the open. I applaud you idealists, you tireless optimists, for your continued efforts in changing the minds of raging fanatics, but I fear your battle is a futile one. While it's certainly neither impossible or unheard of for a bigot to change their mind, it is, unfortunately, rare. I feel we would gain far more ground leaving those pitiful creatures to wallow in their own hatred and instead reach out to those who do not know us. When we encounter someone on the internet, or at school, or at work, who says they "just don't understand...", or thinks "that's kinda weird...", let us not react in anger. Let us not lash out and put them in the bigot box, or start shouting slogans about homophobia and equal rights. Let's instead hear these statements as questions -- and let's answer them. Let's help them understand, let's show them that weird is okay. Let's show them that, actually, our sexuality, gender, or type of relationship is just one very small part of who we are, and we are really just regular ol' people with regular ol' lives. Let's, perhaps, give them a chance to feel comfortable.
I know it becomes tempting after hearing the same crap from the same intolerant assholes over and over and over to just assume that anyone that isn't with us is against us. But it is exactly that mentality -- that us vs. them bullshit -- that causes all this hatred in the first place. We are doing ourselves no favours by making an enemy of anyone who isn't marching beside us. We must remember that within our ultimate goal of equal rights and freedoms comes the right to not like everything, to not understand everything, to not be comfortable with everything, and to change our minds about things. We mustn't expect everyone to react to difference with enthusiasm. We cannot control the innermost feelings and fears of others -- all we can control is whether we react in anger, or in kindness.
I was asked recently if there was anything I have an extreme opinion on.
It is true that I attempt to take the middle ground on most issues: I tend to find extremism detrimental, regardless the issue, and find that seeking balance is often the most satisfactory path. Diplomacy and reason have always served me better than polarization and extremism, and I try always to take that position.
That said, yes, there is one issue on which I hold an extremist view. Personal freedom. I believe with every ounce of my being that an individual -- any individual -- has complete and absolute autonomy over their own being. Interestingly, I've found that, when stated that way, no one takes issue with my position. When I say, simply, "one should have complete control over their own being", everyone agrees. As soon as the discussion moves even a single step forward, however, views begin to change. "Does this mean one should have the right to take drugs?". Yes. "Does this mean abortion should be legal?". Yes. "Does this mean one should have the right to marry someone of the same gender, get a sex change, have three husbands?". Yes. "Does this mean one should be permitted to tattoo their entire body, brand their forehead, bleach their skin?". Yes. I believe in complete and total personal freedom. If one is not harming others through their actions, there is absolutely no reason to deny them their rights. Even more than that, I think harm must be defined harshly. One may argue that your father getting a sex change harms you, or that your sister getting an abortion harms you. Well, tough shit. Sorry, but those things will impact the person in question far more than you, so their decision is, and should be, the final say. Until one's actions reach the point of tangible, undeniable, extreme harm to others, it should be no one's business what others engage in.
Simply put, if it doesn't impact your life directly, it's none of your fucking business. And I mean real impact. I don't mean that bullshit "it makes me feel icky that two men can get married", or "I think drugs are bad, therefore, no one should do them" kind of impact, I mean, you must prove that your life is somehow directly and negatively effected by another's actions. Show me how gay marriage will lower your income or deprive your children or make it harder for your spouse to retire. Show me how a 30 year old man smoking a joint will make gas prices go up or your health insurance harder to pay for or your credit rating go down. Show me how a rape victim getting an abortion will make your mortgage harder to pay or your religion harder to adhere to or your baby get less food. Show me how these personal decisions effect your life. If you can't, I strongly suggest you shut the fuck up and let others make their own decisions, their own mistakes, their own progress and their own destinies.
I will loudly, proudly, boldly defend decisions that I entirely disagree with in the interest of personal freedom. This is the most daunting and most telling task of anyone that holds to a truth: that it remains true, even when you don't like it. I will gladly shout from the rooftops that you -- yes YOU -- have the right to do things that I abhor, you have the right to exist in any way you see fit, so long as it does not interfere in your neighbour's ability to do the same. And I will tell anyone who disagrees with me that they are wrong. Rarely is my position so extreme, rarely will I make a truth claim or a declared ideal, but in the interest of personal freedom, I will gladly contradict myself. I will staunchly defend my position as right and yours as wrong. And I will do so with not a hint of remorse, as my position is a defense of you, as well. Whether you realize it or not, your position is completely dependent on your personal freedom. You disagree with me because you are able to. No one is putting a gun to your head, demanding you support this or that. No one is threatening your family, should you dare disagree. You are free to disagree with me, and that is precisely what personal freedom comes down to. You can make your decisions, and I can make mine, and unless my decisions alter your life somehow, we retain that right.
And I think it is precisely this that we all forget at times. I think we are all, by nature, tempted to impose our will on others -- we all desire to see people living in a way we think is right. Tempting as it may be, however, one of the oldest and most well known rules of life tells us why this is wrong: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. You know damn well that you don't want my beliefs imposed on you. So why try to impose yours on me? Until our lives begin to effect one another, why shouldn't we just live and let live?
So I guess you could say I'm an extremist non-extremist. I view it as an act of extremism to impose one's will on another for no justifiable reason, and I am opposed to it fully and completely. This life is yours, and you have every right to live it as you see fit.
It's odd how a particular theme will dominate moments in one's life, whether they invite it to or not. Looking back on all the writing on this site, I can't see that religion has taken up too much space or time, and yet, I have had two readers email me recently, asking about my beliefs "if, in fact, you have any", and just this morning, I had a woman in a debate group question a statement I'd made about my prior beliefs. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised -- religion still plays an immense role in the lives of many, and I've made enough passing references to pique curiosity for those so inclined, I suppose.
I guess it's also time to get this all off my chest. While religion no longer plays a big role in my life, it's long been a fascinating topic for me, and has influenced my life greatly at times. What I believe, what I don't believe, what I used to believe, and why those beliefs have changed so much is a long, convoluted story that I expect exactly no one to be interested in. However, there are particular questions that I get asked time and again, and they are, not surprisingly, the same questions I asked (and continue to ask) myself all along this journey from Christian to agnostic-Taoist. Perhaps it is time I answer them out loud, for the sake of the curious, and myself.
Were you ever really a Christian? This is the question I (and I presume all former Christians) get asked most by believers. The Bible implies at times that one cannot lose salvation -- that if they truly believed, they would never lose their faith completely. Because of these verses, I have been both subtly and directly accused of having never really believed. There is a bit of truth to that, but not in the way those believers think. I truly believed in God -- there is no doubt about that. In fact, for an embarrassingly long time, I didn't even pause to doubt it. It seemed self-evident to me that there was a God, that the world had been created, and that there was a heaven waiting for us. That said, I wasn't too fussy about the details. I believed that Jesus had died for us, but that was about as far as the specifically Christian aspect of my beliefs went. I always had pretty serious doubts about the creation story being taken literally, the concept of original sin, and a lot of the things the people at church told me. I didn't understand calling other people's religions "false", and I tended to believe God would judge us more on whether we were decent human beings or not than whether we worshiped the right God or not. I expected to see Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and atheists in heaven. Being "saved" to me did not mean being guaranteed a spot in heaven while others were left to rot in hell, it meant making a commitment to try to follow Jesus. Looking back on what I believed now, I guess it's fair to say I wasn't much of a Christian, but I was a firm believer in Jesus.
So, what changed? In a word, everything. I can't tell you the moment, but at some point, I started really questioning what I believed and why. My mom is a Christian, and obviously, her beliefs had influenced my own. I grew up in a predominately Christian city, with a predominately Christian family, and those who didn't believe didn't talk much about it. In fact, religion was so common to every aspect of life that it literally hadn't ever crossed my mind that there may not be a God. I did begin to question, however, who this God was. As I read more, and came to fully grasp the concept of original sin, I began to seriously question how God could be both just and merciful, yet condemn all of humanity for this or that reason. How this being could be perfect and all-loving, yet require worship and obedience to such an extent that he'd punish you eternally if you got it wrong.
Once the questions began, they did not stop, and there were no answers to be found. I asked my mom, I asked people at church, I asked my friends, I looked in the Bible, but mostly, I prayed. I prayed that God show me who he actually was, because he surely couldn't be the tyrant religion made him out to be. We had to have it wrong. The Bible had to be wrong, people had to be wrong. I just couldn't believe that we'd be expected to take these stories literally, that this was really the way it was. I got a lot of shallow answers and "trust in God" speeches and Bible verses that seemed wholly irrelevant parroted at me. But never did I get an actual answer to my questions. Never would it make sense to me again. Never would God respond. And never again would I call myself a Christian.
But, you still believe in God, right? I mean, you don't have to be a Christian to believe in God. For awhile, yes, I did. I explored Wicca and some vague, nameless forms of modern paganism for awhile. I believed there was indeed a deity out there, but it had become a much more abstract concept. I came to believe that all religions were acknowledging the same entity, in their own ways. I saw the petty (and often lethal) divisions between religions as a human flaw, an issue that had nothing to do with the deity itself. I came to see God as a rather impersonal being, energy that we could harness if we so desired, but that did not deliberately interfere in our individual lives unless we called for it to. I played around with Buddhism and Hinduism -- maybe God was actually many Gods, maybe God was a cosmic consciousness that we had created, rather than vice versa. Maybe God was the life force of the universe itself.
And that's the point at which agnosticism took hold, and I began to discover Taoism. I realized, quite quickly, this time, that if I couldn't be sure about the Christian God, I couldn't be sure of any of them. And if I couldn't be sure about any of them, I couldn't be sure there was a God at all. I had to admit that the only intellectually honest position was agnosticism. It became painfully clear to me that, whatever one believed, no one actually knew. And if we don't know, we aren't really seeking truth by standing by a pre-determined conclusion, are we?
Now, I know a lot of you are thinking "but I do know. I've had experiences that can't be explained away. I've felt the hand of God. I have no doubt he is real". And you know what? I believe you. Unlike the angrier atheists you may have encountered, I don't poo-poo the personal experiences of others. I don't explain them away as delusions or wishful thinking. I've had them myself, and I certainly don't write off the idea that there is more to existence than we realize -- in fact, I strongly defend it. But that's kind of the point. Countless experiences have been had, countless theories abound, countless possibilities exist, and we've just begun scratching the surface of understanding. If there is one thing that I believe without doubt, it is that the idea that we've pinned the ultimate, universal, objective truth down in a book of parables or a handful of rules is ludicrous. The idea that, of the hundreds of thousands of concepts of god, spirituality, religion, creation, divinity, and truth, that one particular group of people got it right, is not only unarguably unlikely, it is the height of arrogance. To be sure, this doesn't mean I'm discounting anyone's experience -- quite the opposite. It is indeed the fact that so many have had inexplicable experiences that leads me to believe truth claims about such things are baseless. There are simply too many possibilities, too many different experiences, to make any meaningful claims about what is true and what is false. To say that the Christian experience is real while the Hindu experience is false, that enlightenment is real while heaven is not, that Allah exists but the Tao does not, is, quite simply, absurd.
Which leads to the final question that inspired this long and rambling rant in the first place: what, if anything, do you believe? I call myself an agnostic-Taoist, but really, that's a bit misleading. I don't know a hell of a lot about traditional Taoism. I've read English translations of the Tao Te Ching, I've studied a few Taoist concepts, I've dabbled in Tai Chi and I've always had an affinity for the yin-yang. Even as a Christian, I chose to wear a yin-yang over a cross, as I've always believed in balance -- the striving for, and the natural state of. When I began studying Buddhism in my late teens, I found a lot of truth in it, but there was always something a bit...off about it. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but I felt it had missed the mark by just a tiny bit. I felt that it valued truth, but put too much focus on the wrong things. Still, I was intrigued, and read up a bit on the Buddhist pantheon (most Buddhists do not believe in literal Gods, but their traditional stories do include elevated beings), eventually discovering Guanyin. The beautiful myth associated with her led me to explore her origins, which led me to Taoism. As I mentioned earlier, I still don't know a whole lot about traditional Taoism. A lot gets lost in translation, and a lot more in the culture gap. The reason I call myself a Taoist is that the Tao Te Ching is the only text I have ever read that manages to articulate the many vague beliefs and feelings I've long held on my own.
Simply put, Taoism is the belief that everything just...is. That there is a flow to the universe, and if we wish to seek truth, we must follow it, not fight against it. That belief or disbelief in a deity is irrelevant and a distraction from the bigger picture. That confusion is to be avoided at all costs. That balance is to be sought. That you should live for yourself -- not in a selfish sense, but with regard for personal freedom and personal responsibility. Beyond just what is found in Taoism, I believe in respecting the universe -- in doing as little harm and as much benefit as possible. I believe in individual freedom, I believe that existence itself is divine and should be treated accordingly. I don't know if there is a deity (or several), nor do I care all that much. I believe that, by focusing on these random, varied, unproven entities and what they may want of us, we are missing out on the apparently very rare experience of life. We are missing the opportunity to be the living universe. I believe, quite simply, in existence, and in respecting it, being awestruck by it, seeking to understand it, enjoying it, improving it, and, ultimately, living it.
Wherein I say
whatever I want.